Death Penalty

Charles Putnam, Co-Director Justiceworks UNH, and Barbara Keshen, New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. This issue has been updated by LFDA editors.

Issue Facts

Under New Hampshire's capital punishment law, the death penalty can be sought in cases involving the murder of police and court officers, judges, murders for hire, and/or murders connected to drug deals, rape, kidnapping and home invasions.

Lethal injection is the primary form of execution. The last execution (by hanging) was carried out in 1939. Michael Addison, convicted in 2008 of killing a Manchester police officer, is the state's sole death row inmate.

Recent History

Early in 2010, the state legislature created a 22-person committee to review the state's death penalty statute. The purpose of the commission was to consider a variety of public policy issues related to the death penalty, including the cost to execute a criminal versus the cost to sentence them to life in prison without parole.

It's been determined the state will spend nearly $3 million to prosecute, defend (he was ruled indigent and received a court-appointed lawyer) and sentence Michael Addison. The cost will increase by approximately $400,000 per year while Addison appeals his conviction.

In late November 2010, the commission voted 12-10 in favor of keeping the capital punishment law. The majority ruled:

  • Capital punishment serves several important and legitimate social interests, including instilling confidence in the criminal justice system and acting as a deterrent.
  • The death penalty is consistent with evolving standards of societal decency.
  • As used in New Hampshire, capital punishment is not applied in an arbitrary, unfair, or discriminatory manner.
  • No alternative to the death penalty is sufficient to address legitimate social or penal interests for the narrow categories of capital murder for which the death penalty may be imposed in New Hampshire.
  • While the costs of pursuing the death penalty exceed the expenses in a typical first degree murder case, the death penalty is pursued sparingly in this state and those costs are necessary to provide both a high quality of prosecution and a vigorous defense.

Click here to read the entire report.

The statute was expanded to include murders connected to home invasion in June 2011. The law was spurred by the murder of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon. 

Gov. Lynch issued the following statement upon signing the law:

"I believe strongly that there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is warranted. As a state, we've used our death penalty statute judiciously and cautiously, as is appropriate. But there are some horrific crimes that are not currently covered under our capital murder statute. That is why I today signed legislation to include home invasions in our capital murder statute."

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By Charles Putnam

Punishment must fit the crime:

  • Some murders, like the intentional murder of a rape victim, are so depraved that capital punishment is the only proportional sentence available. The New Hampshire Constitution itself recognizes that punishment must be proportional to the offense (Pt. I, Art. 18). The New Hampshire Supreme Court has recognized that in order for the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system, there must be a belief that the punishment fits the crime.

Deterrent:

  • There is a respected body of scholarly evidence that capital punishment helps reduce homicide on a national level and there is good anecdotal evidence that some of the worst offenders, like persons already serving life sentences, consider the availability of the death penalty.  The capital murder statute also protects police and correctional officers. Its repeal would remove an important protection for the men and women who do very important jobs and are expected to expose themselves to dangerous, potentially deadly situations as a normal part of their work, but it would also send an unfortunate message about our state's willingness to defend the rule of law.

Never had a wrongful murder conviction

  • The opponents of NH's capital murder statute argue that procedural errors in other states demonstrate that the statute is too erratic to remain on the books. They make this claim despite the fact that, to my knowledge, New Hampshire has one of the narrowest capital murder statutes in the country and never experienced a wrongful murder conviction that was sustained after the first appeal, much less had a death sentence thrown out by a court based on a finding of actual innocence or even a capital murder case where a prosecutor committed a procedural error like wrongly withholding evidence.

Cost not a factor

  • With respect to their cost, it is important to remember that capital murder cases arise infrequently in New Hampshire and are a relatively small proportion of the total resources expended on law enforcement, courts and indigent defense in any given year. It is unfair to add up the total cost of a case or two over many years, because it paints a distorted picture of the relative amount of resources devoted to the few cases that have arisen in New Hampshire. More importantly, there are many things ' like providing a robust system of indigent defense ' that society undertakes despite the economic cost, because justice requires them to be done.

The views expressed here are the personal opinions of Attorney Putnam and do not represent the views of Justiceworks or the University of New Hampshire.

"Against" Position

By Barbara Keshen

Morally wrong:

  • Faith leaders from many denominations have united in their opposition to the death penalty. Many believe the death penalty does not affirm the sacredness of human life, demeans the value of life, promotes violence, and does not promote spiritual healing and well-being of victims. 

Not a deterrent:

  • The death penalty does not deter crime. A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association found that 88% of the nation's top criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent. In a 1995 Hart Research Associates Poll of police chiefs, the chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime.

Executing innocent people

  • The Criminal Justice System is not infallible, and as long as states impose the death penalty innocent people will be put to death. Since the U.S. reinstituted the death penalty in 1973, 139 wrongly convicted people have been released from death row.

Cost:

  • The death penalty costs significantly more than a life without parole sentence, in some estimates about 10 times the amount. This is because of the heightened process that the death penalty requires. The average length of time from a sentence of death to an execution is 13 years. During that time the taxpayer is footing the expense of the appeals, both by the state and by the defense, since virtually all inmates on death row are indigent.

Victims' needs

  • The death penalty ignores the real needs of victims. Seeking the death penalty diverts millions of dollars of our scarce resources that could otherwise go into providing critical services to the family of homicide victims.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Passed House and Senate

Changes the penalty for any offense eligible for the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole.

Killed in the House

Allows the death penalty for "knowingly causing the death" of someone under age eighteen.

Killed in the House

Expands the death penalty to cover weapons of mass destruction, attacks on voters, attacks on courts, attacks on students, and attacks on other constitutionally protected individuals.

Tabled in the Senate

Suspends imposition of the death penalty in all future prosecutions for capital murder until such time methods exist to ensure the penalty cannot be imposed on an innocent person.

Tabled in the Senate

Repeals the death penalty.

Signed by Governor

Allows the death penalty when murder is committed during a burglary.

Should NH keep the death penalty?

UNDECIDED
REPRESENTATIVES

AGAINST
REPRESENTATIVES

1 comment(s)
1 comment(s)
1 comment(s)
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Comments

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 8:15pm

Rebuttal: Barbara Keshen's Anti Death Penalty Position ("AGAINST" POSITION, Pros and cons, above.)

Morally correct:

For 2000 years, the religious support for the death penalty has been overwhelming, from Popes, Saints, Fathers of the Church, other religious leaders, biblical and theological scholars, with teachings and specific biblical references that the death penalty affirms the sacredness of human life, the value of life and promotes peace and social stability.

It was not until the end of the 1950s that we started to see some mainstream religions turn against the death penalty.

Did the bible, suddenly change in the 1950s? Of course not, but some of the religious became more, socially, liberal.

Is a deterrent:

The death penalty does deter crime.

A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association found that:

the survey response to question 12 finds that 92% of the criminologists agree that the death penalty may deter some.

It is a rational conclusion. All prospects of a negative outcome/consequence deter the behavior of some. It is a truism.

The survey  responses to question 8 found that 61% (or 46) of the criminologists found some support for the deterrent effects of the death penalty through the empirical, social science studies.

Evidently, Keshen forgot to read the survey.

28 recent studies, since 1999,  inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence. These studies find executions deter from 1-28 murders per execution.

Police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime, because capital murder is, by far, the fewest in number of all crimes committed and, because of that, death penalty deterrence will result in the fewest of crimes deterred.

About 90% of police chiefs support the death penalty.

Not executing innocent people

Keshen named not one innocent executed.

The "139 wrongly convicted people released from death row" were not actually innocent.

Possibly, 30 were actually innocent and they were all released. That is a 99.6% accuracy rate in convicting the actually guilty and 100% rate of releasing them ---  very likely the most accurate of all government programs.

Cost:

The various cost studies are incomplete, inaccurate or fraudulent, as detailed.

It appears that responsible management would find the death penalty no more expensive than LWOP.

For example, Virginia has executed 112 murderers since 1976, within an average of 7 years of appeals, prior to execution, a protocol that would, most likely, be a cost savings over LWOP in all jurisdicitions.

Victims' needs

The death penalty recognizes the primary needs of victims - justice - and that the murderer will never, ever, be able to harm anyone, again.

Arnie Alpert
- Concord

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 2:28pm

The death penalty serves no useful public policy purpose. To the contrary, it wastes funds and perpetuates the notion that killing is the best way to prevent killing. Many family members of murder victims say it does nothing to aid in adjusting to a future without their loved ones. And the statistical evidence shows that use of the death penalty is racially biased. For more information and to join the movement for repeal, go to nodeathpenaltynh.org.

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 9:54am

The death penalty serves the same public policy purpose as all sanctions - justice, arguably the greatest goal and accomplishment of mankind.

Based upon all incomplete NH cost studies, we have no idea if the death penalty in NH is more expensive than the most expensive LWOP cases.

No one has ever claimed that "killing is the best way to prevent killing", but that the death penalty is the most just sanction for some murderers.

It appears that about 95% of families who lose loved ones to a death penalty eligible murder support the death penalty.

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers and are executed at a rate 41% higher than are black death row inmates

Timothy Sweetsir's picture
Timothy Sweetsir
- Ashland

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 5:42pm

The death penalty is done by lethal injection and for capital crimes only. We only have one inmate on death row, and No one has been executed in the state of New Hampshire since 1939. The defined capital punishment law.
Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. ... Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences.
It is my opinion if you are convicted of capital murder then you should receive capital punishment. Now once receiving that conviction I feel that the execution should be carried out a lot sooner than what has taken place in other states, What is the sense in placing a death sentence on someone if you are going to put them on death row for 30 years. My point is if you are going to convict in a death penalty case then carry out the order.

I do support the death penalty for capital crimes. But also want to protect taxpayers who should not have to support them for 30 years.

Thank you
Tim Sweetsir (R)

Charles Lawson
- Orford

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 4:44pm

It can be a cost saving measure and it might be necessary to look at it in that light rather than as a moral opinion on if a crime is heinous enough to require termination of an individual in response.

Joshua Freeman
- Manchester

Wed, 02/13/2013 - 11:42pm

I support the death penalty, in a manner of speaking, and so do you.

Death is a consequence of life. Premature death, on the other hand, can be a consequence of many things - poor decisions regarding lifestyle and diet, random chance, a simple mistake during a crucial moment, or the violent, unprovoked actions of another. However, like every other aspect of our lives, our death is, most often, the result of our decisions.

If, for instance, you decide to kill somebody else, the chances of you being killed yourself increases dramatically. A friend, relative or lover out for revenge. A concerned stranger intervening in your plans. Self defense. An accident during the chaos and confusion caused by your violent behavior. As we can imagine, there are many ways in which we can be "punished" with death for our actions, with or without a so-called "death penalty".

But what if we really want to kill somebody? Is it ever OK to kill somebody? Is there ever a time where we should be able to kill and be protected from those consequences? Who should decide? Where do we go for moral and ethical standards on this issue? Many people who support the death penalty disagree with the criteria which should be used for its justification. How is that conflict resolved?

The justification for killing somebody is almost always the same - they killed somebody. We are absolutely certain killing people is wrong, which is why we are obligated to create convincing justifications for doing it ourselves. At the very least, our reasons for killing somebody have to be better than the killer's reasons. In fact, if the killer's reasons for killing are reasonable, such as killing in self-defense or the defense of others, then it would be wrong to kill him for punishment or revenge. If, however, the killer is killing to punish or get revenge, we all agree that this behavior is completely immoral and should not be tolerated.

However, since we ourselves want to kill to punish and exact revenge, we need a loophole in our moral standards -- an exception to the rule, and the traditional way of creating exceptions for otherwise universal moral ideals is, of course, the government. We need a blind spot for our conscience.

Pages upon page of laws, inviolable rules, each one ultimately justifying the use of violence against another, and providing very specific exceptions to those rules allowing certain people, with the right paperwork, or having the right title, or wearing the right uniform, to violate them. After all, if we "taxed" people ourselves, this would be theft and evil and wrong, so we need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it legally. If we "arrested" people ourselves, this would be assault and kidnapping and evil and wrong, so we need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it legally. If we "executed" somebody ourselves, this would be murder and evil and wrong, so we, again, need some documentation allowing a specialist to do it, if we are determined to kill people "nice and legal", that is.

It really boils down to trust. How well do you trust the government? How impressed are you with the job it has been doing? How confident are you in their ability to make decisions that you agree with? After all, if we are going give somebody the right to kill us, we should at least be satisfied with the other decisions they make.

That is, of course, the real question nobody is asking: "How do you feel about the government having the legal right to kill you?" That is what people are actually talking about when they use the phrase "death penalty". However, I think most supporters imagine that the state will kill the same people they would like to have killed themselves.

I, personally, have no such delusion.

Dudley Sharp
- Houston

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 10:21am

Joshua:

Killing in self defense, defense of others, in a just war and with executions, all against unjust aggressors, are just and appropriate killings.

We don't execute murderers because the sanction reflects crime. That cannot be the case. Just sanction is because of unjust crime, the guilty murderer being sanctioned for murdering the innocent, whether with the death penalty or LWOP, decided based upon trying to find the most just sanction, not too lenient, not too harsh, based upon the harm of the crime.

A sanction is only a sanction when we take away that which is valued, money with fines, time and labor with community service, freedom with incarceration and life with execution, depending upon the harm done.

Claude Roessiger
- Wolfeboro

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 10:43pm

Without entering into the emotional debate regarding this very emotional issue, I would say that a vote that is taken in consideration of one person (the single person on death row in our state) is poor law. No law should concern one person.

This is where we find ourselves today, an increasingly emotional nation making increasingly emotional decisions regarding a panoply of issues. These are bad law with often ill-considered long term consequences.

More than civics lessons, our students need growing up lessons, to understand what it should mean to be an adult, else we shall see the thoughts and tempers of children in our government.

Claude Roessiger

 

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Issue Status

Sen. Kevin Avard is the primary sponsor of a bill that would change the penalty for any future capital murder offense to life imprisonment without parole. The bill passed the House and Senate, but Gov. Chris Sununu has promised to veto it.

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